Catherine Lentini, Hard-Edged Anxieties at Abattoir’s Quarter

Works of Catherine Lentini, installation view at Abattoir’s satellite location, courtesy of the artist.

Vividly graphic paintings adorn the walls of Abattoir’s satellite location at the Quarter in Hingetown. The exhibition consists of hard-edged canvases by Catherine Lentini. Two related but separate series that make up the majority of the show explore Lentini’s thoughts about the passage of time, the pervasiveness of screens in our daily lives, and of war – specifically nuclear war – in bold compositions. Lentini’s paintings build on ideas from Op art while also drawing parallels between mid-twentieth century and current socio political climates.

It makes sense that Lentini utilizes hard-edged Op oriented compositions to explore her anxieties over a recent fear of nuclear combat in the growing global political unrest between countries that were thought to have moved past the Cold War. “I’ve been thinking about the paintings being hard-edge and referencing systemic painting and the Op artists,” Lentini explains. “How these are ideas from the 60s and 70s. A lot of things from the 70s are back now, the threat of nuclear war, a standoff with Russia, gas prices and grocery prices rising…

Inflation in general.” By using the visual language developed during that time period, Lentini is able to illustrate her concerns more effectively.

Catherine Lentini, Yellowcake 5, 2023, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 44 inches, Courtesy of Abattoir

Drawing these parallels, one begins to think about the greater picture of how society initially reacted to the threat of nuclear war. The 1950s through the 1970s saw increased trepidation over the possibility and how it permeated into popular culture. Movies like On the Beach (1959) explored the multitude of reactions that an impending nuclear holocaust would have on a population, while The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, (1959) and Five (1951) depicted the aftermath and emptiness such events could produce in the human psyche of its lone survivors. At the same time, the art world was shifting. A number of artists turned to geometric abstraction to explore scientific and psychological concepts, including new developments in technology and visual perception. Exhibitions, like The Responsive Eye (1965) at Moma in NYC and New Tendencies (1961-1973) in Yugoslavia drove home the idea that art and scientific research could go hand in hand.

While Lentini’s paintings are rooted in the language of mid century non-objective abstraction, she expands on the perceptual ideas put forth by artists like Richard Anuszkiewicz and Ed Mieczkowski by the interjection of Neo Conceptual critiques on social issues and references to public design. “A big part of my work, the shapes and colors I use, come from public design like street signs and gas stations.” Signs convey important information quickly and universally, aiding in communication without the need for language proficiency. We all immediately know what a stop sign or a yield sign means. Recognizing signs efficiently allows us to respond appropriately to a variety of situations.

In this way, Lentini’s work utilizes color for specific connotations. Rather than relying on color for color theory sake as many Op artists did, she contemplates the combinations’ greater meaning in the societal collective unconscious. The combination of yellow and black immediately conjure dual feelings of anxiety and safety. The two primary series in the exhibition, Yellowcake and Night Vision both speak to the anxiety one feels about war through their use of color and composition.

Catherine Lentini, Night Vision II, 2023, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 44 inches, Courtesy of Abattoir

Specifically, in the Yellowcake series she is referencing fallout shelter signs as well as with the titles, uranium powder. The color combination invokes ingrained responses in the psyche of our culture that have been present since the design’s introduction in 1961. Of these paintings Lentini describes, “I really see them as this feeling that something really terrible is happening. When disaster hits like that, all protocol goes out the window. People are just running around and scrambling.”

The dynamic vanishing point and alternating stripes in paintings like Yellowcake #5 enhance the sense of unease. Lentini states, “In particular, the yellow paintings, I wanted to create a feeling that wasn’t pleasant, or nice.” The compositions have a science fiction quality to them, lending themselves to flashing alert systems that display on monitors when situations go awry. Additional references to screens are in the black and white half circles that unexpectedly cut into the compositions. Lentini describes them as “creating a sense of movement. They manipulate the space in the paintings.” In doing so, they create a further sense of unrest. The stark contrast, as alarming as it is, provides further insight into Lentini’s interest in screens by referencing television test patterns. The patterns were commonly used from the 1930s through the 1960s and further places her artistic visual language to the mid-20th century time period in which nuclear weapons were developed and used.

Lentini also uses compositional elements in the works to break our viewing patterns. Angles and color variations are utilized to speed up viewing, while placing barriers and resting points like solid areas of color or lines that break the angular compositions slow the viewer down or bring the eye to a dead stop. This play with our vision directly relates to our experience of time. “I think light, the way it changes, is how we understand and keep track of time.”, Lentini describes. “The gradient is a symbol of light changing and imbues the paintings with a sense of time.”

The exploration of time may be more apparent in her Night Vision series. Night vision technology revolutionized the way we see and navigate in low-light conditions. By amplifying ambient light or using infrared illumination, night vision devices enhance visibility, allowing users to perceive their surroundings in near-total darkness. Lentini’s horizontal oriented paintings reference both the landscape, the human field of vision, as well as screens. This combination of concepts lends itself to ideas about night vision technologies and how and why they are used.

Originally developed for military purposes, night vision maintains a strong connotation of wartime combat. “It’s a different kind of fear,” Lentini explains, “a quiet fear.” And it is, these paintings, like Night Vision II,  have a sense of calm anxiety to them, as if you, the viewer, were stationed low to the ground, anticipating some threat to move in the darkness. They have the feeling of an anxious waiting that is perhaps due to the multitude of steps between light and dark green lines across solid black and green planar fields. In this painting, Lentini also places a faint pink square to the right that stops the eye and holds the viewer’s attention. She explains that the pink is the afterimage of the green and is meant as a rest from the intensity of the composition. Interestingly, the human eye is most sensitive to the color green, and this plays to Lentini’s advantage for these works. It’s the color we are able to see the most shades of, and why her night vision paintings work so well at illustrating her visual concepts.

Works of Catherine Lentini, installation view at Abattoir’s satellite location, courtesy of the artist.

Through her work, Lentini cleverly plays with historical references to capture her feelings about present situations. When discussing systemic painting and the systems in society, she explains, “I think about the fragility of our systems [both societal and artistic]. They all have to fit together just right to get the effect. They are a delicate, precarious balance.” So too are her paintings. Each element, each line that she introduces has to fit precisely, otherwise the visual effects would, like our systems, fall apart. It is a reminder how thin a line there is between order and chaos.

The exhibition is located at Abattoir’s satellite gallery at the Quarter Apartments located at 2615 Detroit Ave, in Hingetown, Ohio City. It can be viewed by appointment through March.


The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

Leave a Reply